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September 25, 2020

Neither side's territory would be used against the other: US wants accord between Afghanistan, Pakistan

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September 25, 2020

WASHINGTON: To curb cross border terrorism, restrict movement and to ensure that respective territories are not used as safe havens by militant outfits, the Trump administration is vying to lay out a formal agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"As part of this effort with help from our allies, we are looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan that neither side's territory would be used against the other," Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security.

During a hearing on the Afghanistan Strategy yesterday, Ambassador Khalilzad noted that part of the challenge was the regional environment, and Pakistan in particular. "The Pakistani leaders have been helpful for the effort that I have been making to encourage a political settlement," he said, adding that by the time negotiations with the Taliban are over, the bilateral agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan could also be achieved.

It’s pertinent to mention that Pakistan has already made efforts to secure the largely porous frontier with Afghanistan by erecting a fence along the border. It was a unilateral step that started in 2017. To monitor and cease movement of militants from Afghanistan, it also wants to set up hundreds of new outposts.

“One benefit of peace in Afghanistan is connectivity and trade and economic development in the region, “Ambassador Khalilzad further said “one potential implication and positive one is a greater economic trade and cooperation that links Pakistan, Afghanistan, to Central Asia for the benefit of all.”

Ambassador Khalilzad acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts for peace in its neighboring country. He also told the members of Congress that the US and Afghan government jointly declared their commitment in February to reach a comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement to end the war in Afghanistan, including: guarantees to prevent the use of Afghan soil by any international terrorist groups or individuals against the security of the US and its allies; a conditions-based timeline for the withdrawal of all US and Coalition forces from Afghanistan; a political settlement resulting from intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations between the Taliban and an inclusive negotiating team of Afghanistan; and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

Addressing concerns of human rights violations, women rights and sustainability of an agreement with the Taliban, along with Pakistan’s role in this regard, Ambassador Khalilzad told the Committee that the US intends to use economic, diplomatic leverage as well as political relations, assistance programmes to shape behavior. “I think we will continue to have leverage in Afghanistan, and we will use that leverage to make sure that our values are respected and to the maximum extent possible.”

Regarding the timeline for the withdrawal of US and coalition forces, Khalilzad said, “We are on the path to reduce troop levels to between 4,000 and 5,000 by this fall and further withdrawals will be determined based on conditions on the ground and delivery by the Taliban on their commitments.